What are Ticks?
Ticks are ectoparasites (external parasites), living by hematophagy on the blood of mammals, birds, and sometimes reptiles and amphibians. Ticks are vectors of a number of diseases that affect both humans and other animals.
Ixodid ticks require three hosts, and their life cycle takes at least one year to complete. Up to 3,000 eggs are laid on the ground by an adult female tick. When larvae emerge, they feed primarily on small mammals and birds. After feeding, they detach from their host and molt to nymphs on the ground, which then feed on larger hosts and molt to adults. Female adults attach to larger hosts, feed, and lay eggs, while males feed very little and occupy larger hosts primarily for mating.
Argasid ticks, unlike ixodid ticks, may go through several nymphal stages, requiring a meal of blood each time. Their life cycles range from months to years. The adult female argasid tick can lay a few hundred to over a thousand eggs over the course of her lifetime. Larvae feed very quickly and detach to molt to nymphs. Nymphs may go through as many as seven instars, each requiring a blood meal. Both male and female adults feed on blood, and they mate off the host. During feeding, any excess fluid is excreted by the coxal glands, a process which is unique to argasid ticks.
Tick-borne illnesses are caused by infection with a variety of pathogens, including Rickettsia and other types of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Because ticks can harbor more than one disease-causing agent, patients can be infected with more than one pathogen at the same time, compounding the difficulty in diagnosis and treatment. Major tick-borne diseases include Lyme disease, Q fever (rare; more commonly transmitted by infected excreta), Colorado tick fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, African tick bite fever, Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever, tularemia, tick-borne relapsing fever, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and tick-borne meningoencephalitis, as well as bovine anaplasmosis and probably the Heartland virus. Some species, notably the Australian paralysis tick, are also intrinsically venomous and can cause paralysis.
Tick bites are usually painless, the ticks are tiny, and consequently many people are unaware that they have been bitten. Ticks do not survive in hot, dry areas as it causes their bodies to dry. They can be active when temperatures are above 40F even in the winter.
Prevention of Ticks
1. Create tick free zones around your home by cutting back wooded areas and increasing the size of open lawn.
2. Keep grass mowed to 3 inches or less. This lowers humidity at ground level, making it difficult for ticks to survive.
3. Place play areas in sunshine.
4. Remove leaf litter, moist plant litter, brush, weeds and other debris that attract ticks.
5. Eliminate dense plant beds close to your home such as ivy and pachysandra.
6. Create borders (pebbles, cedar chips) to separate your lawn from the wooded area surrounding it.
7. Rock walls, woodpiles, and birdfeeders attract mice and chipmunks which hide, nest and eat spilled food from these sources. Do your best to keep these far from your home.
8. Keep garbage in tightly closed cans and don't leave pet food outside or purposely attract and feed wild animals.